The Persian boy.Posted: October 25, 2014
Photo: Mohamad and I reading in a coffee shop in Isfahan; Tolstoy for him, Renault for me.
I remembered pretty late in this trip that one of my favorite books of all time, The Persian Boy by Mary Renault, is set in present-day Iran. I was reminded when touring a palace in Kashan and thought, “This is the kind of place Bagoas grew up in.” So I sat down by a column and reread the first few pages. Now I can’t put it down, even though I know everything that happens.
Bagoas was the name of a eunuch of legendary beauty who became Alexander the Great’s lover, close friend, and confidante during his conquest of Persia. The book begins with Alexander being only a distant rumor that filters in through harem gossip in the court of Darius. But when Alexander defeats Darius in three successive battles, and Darius is murdered by his own men, Bagoas gives himself over to the Macedonians. Then begins one of the greatest love stories of all time.
As for Mary Renault…there aren’t many writers whose work I feel like I wouldn’t be capable of producing, but she’s one of them. Each sentence of hers is like a perfectly distilled crystal that dissolves and expands once you drop it in water. When I’m reading her, I forget to eat, because I feel so full.
Here Bagoas describes the character of Alexander:
“He needed love as a palm tree needs water, all his life long: from armies, from cities, from conquered enemies, nothing was enough. It laid him open to false friends, as anyone will tell you. Well, for all that, no man is made a god when he is dead and can do no harm, without love. He needed love and never forgave its betrayal, which he had no understanding of. For he himself, if it was given with a whole heart, never misused it, nor despised the giver. He took it gratefully, and felt bound by it. I should know.”
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